BGA Sues Chicago City Council Over Open Meetings Act Violations

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, members of her administration and Chicago aldermen have repeatedly held telephone conference calls to discuss city business without public notice and without providing opportunities for citizens to observe or participate.

The Better Government Association filed a lawsuit on Friday against the Chicago City Council over a recent series of conference calls that violate the Open Meetings Act. 

The calls were arranged by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s staff and have been described as informational briefings between the administration and aldermen. 

The meetings “violated nearly every meaningful OMA requirement, including the statutory obligation to provide notice of meetings, to allow public comment at meetings, and to make meetings ‘convenient’ and ‘open’ to the public,” according to the lawsuit.

"The Open Meetings Act ensures that the actions of our government are not conducted in improper secrecy,” said Josh Burday, an attorney with Loevy and Loevy, which represents the BGA. “Transparency in government is critical, and the right of the public to attend and speak at meetings ensures that transparency."

Recordings of some of the meetings have been shared with reporters and circulated on social media. According to news accounts, the discussions focused on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its handling of protests in Chicago following the death of George Floyd during an encounter with Minneapolis police. 

The calls included aldermen, the mayor and members of her administration.

The Open Meetings Act guarantees citizen access to “all meetings at which any business of public body is discussed or acted upon in any way,” except under limited and specific circumstances. Even if those circumstances exist, a meeting cannot be closed to the public without a majority vote, taken in an open meeting. 

The suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court asks a judge to order the City Council to follow the Open Meetings Act by holding such meetings in public and providing advance notice, agendas and an opportunity for public comment. It also seeks the release of minutes and/or recordings of all such meetings.